A gifted advisory center recommended I avoid using the word gifted when I approached my local public school principal about my gifted sons needs. In such a world, parents of gifted children need to carefully plan their interactions with school authorities. I have often felt confused, but have worked to construct a general theory that accounts for their behavior.

School principals (administrators, headmasters, admissions directors, etc.) are ultimately, essentially, and primarily politicians. And politicians are not known for telling the truth. They serve many masters and broker decisions across them. And like any politician, they must regularly deceive their constituents, as they serve: themselves, their spouse, their board, the teachers, the parents, the students, and the future of the institution itself. Just because you’re funding the whole party, by no means are you and your child the first priority.

On top of this, most parents face a monopoly (at best an oligopoly) of school choices. With public schools, you have no choice but to fund your local school with your taxes. You are handed one school and one administrator. I believe you would even help their budget if you pulled your children out into private school. And even with private schools, they often demand signed commitments, and paid tuition far in advance. In most places there are few gifted private schools on offer. You and your child are quite expendable, when there is a line of parents waiting to replace you. Net net this increases the power of the school administration, and decreases the power of the individual parent/student. The imbalance is unhealthy. Power corrupts.

I advise gifted parents to carefully study and practice the Japanese concepts of honne and tatemae. Any time you set foot on school grounds, or interact in any way with anyone from the school, you must put on your tatemae facade. You, and the principal, may say you are sharing your true inner feelings, but it is naiveté itself to really do so. So while a school may be ostensibly “parent run” and paid for, in reality people will grab whatever power they can and hold onto it. Again we see the dichotomy between appearance and inner reality.

Both meaningful feedback and true community in a school thus become rather unrealistic. Politician-principals really don’t want a truly strong parent community, as it would empower a group that is already far down on the priority list, making their job more difficult. PTA meetings become a farce in which only the naive really voice any of their concerns. The administration may ignore you until you go away… or they may make an example or scapegoat of you. I suppose its possible they are well intentioned and (believe they) know more about gifted education than any parent, but more likely they don’t actually want all that much feedback, and you only endanger yourself by revealing your inner thoughts (honne). If you are right, it means you have exposed the administration as wrong. I now look carefully at the parent community as a way of appraising a school.

All one can really do is hope that your child has good teachers and healthy peers. That is ultimately where they spend their time. In theory a MAP test can reassure you if they are actually learning anything. While I like the theory and the goal, in practice some experts here feel MAP becomes less useful for gifted children.

It often seems the goal of the administrator is to manage the parents. Ideally parents can be ignored. The nail that sticks up gets hammered. Or managed, by the carrot and the stick. For example, the principal might control teacher assignments. One begins to feel that their child is a hostage. I’ve had a principal intervene and prohibit a teacher from writing a recommendation 6 months after we changed schools. I’ve had admissions directors begin a meeting about admitting a sibling, by lecturing me about their power to “counsel out” a student. I have had another principal apologize that my DS was denied admission (as if the fish doesn’t stink at the head) while suggesting that I could always reapply. The alert reader will see the carrot and stick in operation.

To summarize, my advice is to understand all school administrators as essentially politicians, understand your place in their pecking order, study tatemae, and consider home schooling. I didn't mean for this to come across as snarky, but I believe most gifted parents have had some bitter experiences. Am interested in your reactions to my framework.

Edited by thx1138 (10/12/15 07:06 PM)